James Ogwang is a SIM card vendor in Kasubi, Kampala. Apart from selling SIM cards, he operates a mobile money business and this has been his source of income for 14 months. According to Uganda Communications Commission UCC, the telecommunication industry regulator, Owang is doing an illegal business.
According to Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the telecommunication industry regulator, Owang is doing an illegal business.
In a closed-door meeting today between UCC, the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura and all telecom companies, UCC has repeated its directive for a halt in the sale of unregistered SIM cards. The meeting was initiated by UCC for stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the continued presence of unregistered SIM cards in the country.
The regulator says that phone users will have to use either the national Identity Card or Passport to register SIM cards.
A fortnight ago, UCC issued a number of directives to telecom companies aimed at curbing sale of unregistered SIM cards and one of the directives was that telecom companies should immediately stop vending the cards. The directive was reinforced days later when UCC and the police vowed to arrest all SIM card vendors.
Ogwang says he heard on radios that vending of SIM cards has been stopped and police would arrest anyone continuing with the business, but he insists on continuing with the business.
"There are many people vending SIM cards and when I hear that the police have started arresting vendors, I will hide the SIM cards and remain with my mobile money business," he says.
Ogwang argues that since the commission has issued guidelines on what documents can be used to register SIM cards, vendors who enforce them should be left to continue working under close monitoring instead of chasing them.
Derrick Ndyohurira, another SIM card vendor in Wandegeya says he sold an Airtel SIM card two weeks ago which he registered in his name. He is still vending SIM cards normally.
Asked about the possibility of being arrested, Ndyohurira told a URN reporter to "ignore the police threats" and let him do his business.
The ease with which the two vendors are doing business indicates that the police and UCC have not implemented their verbal arrest threats.
When asked today, why UCC had not effected its directives, the executive director, Godfrey Mutabazi said; "For us we ordered them (telecoms) to stop vending SIM cards on streets. Please get a SIM card from anyone vending it on the street and bring it to us; we shall deal with the telecom company that owns it."
Mutabazi argued that UCC and police have no capacity to create a special police unit that will arrest people vending SIM cards. He added that the commission's directives on unregistered SIM cards must be enforced because they "informed telecom companies about the repercussions."
He referred to Uganda Communications Commission Act (2012) which mandates the commission to fine telecom companies up to 10 percent of their annual profits, suspend or revoke licences if they defy directives.
Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson Emilian Kayima told Uganda Radio Network that he is not aware of any police operation targeting SIM card vendors.
"I will have to first crosscheck to see whether circulars were issued for enforcement of the order," he said.
Telecoms invite police to arrest vendors
But during today's meeting, telecom operators distanced themselves from the vendors and invited police to arrest them.
In the meeting, Gen Kale Kayihura repeated his threat to arrest SIM card vendors, imploring people to report vendors to police.